Spurgeon’s View of Bible Translations

Spurgeon is my pastor—at least he’s my dead pastor! He was a man passionate for the Scriptures, passionate about the sovereignty of God, and passionate in evangelism! His Lectures to My Students, The Soul Winner, and An All-Around Ministry are must-reads for all aspiring and experienced ministers of the gospel, without question.

I have been very interested in what his view was concerning the translation of Scripture. I know he used the Authorized Version (a.k.a., the King James Version of the Bible). With his ministry being in the 1850s through his death in 1892, I know this was the primary translation in churches, though there were others that were developed (as there were when the 1611 KJV came out).

As there is now, there was then about which is not just preferred, but which is superior. From my observations, five camps exist now in their view of the King James Version:

  • KJV Only: In this camp, it is not just the Greek and Hebrew texts that are inspired, it is this particular English translation that is inspired as well. All others are not simply seen as good in need of fixing, but perversions of God’s Holy Word. In fact, the few that are in this camp do not refer to this as the King James Version but the King James Bible. It is not just one version of many—but the only Bible that is needed.
  • KJV Preferred: In this camp, there are those who prefer the KJV, but who believe it is one translation out of many translations into the English and recognize that the other translations in evangelical mainstream do not deny any major doctrines. Even if a word may not be in a certain verse, it is found elsewhere in the Scriptures, thus affirming that orthodox doctrine.
  • KJV Friendly: In this camp, the KJV may not be the version they feel compelled to use for whatever reason, but understand the history, the beauty, and the importance of that version.
  • KJV Hesitant: They will use this in a pinch (in other words, only if no other version is available or if they are preaching in a church that is KJV Only), but avoid it because they hesitate to use a version relying on 17th century English in the 21st century.
  • KJV Never! In this camp, the KJV is (sadly) not in their library at all. The dated nature of the wording make it difficult to understand—often having to take as much time to explain what the 17th century English means, if it’s pronounceable.

Again, given that Spurgeon was around in the latter half of the 1850s, he was around when other versions other than the King James/Authorized Version of the Scriptures were being translated—in the same spirit that came about when the KJV was translated in 1611. Here are some quotes below (HT):

Do not needlessly amend our authorized version. It is faulty in many places, but still it is a grand work taking it for all in all, and it is unwise to be making every old lady distrust the only Bible she can get at, or what is more likely, mistrust you for falling out with her cherished treasure. Correct where correction must be for truth’s sake, but never for the vainglorious display of your critical ability. [Commenting and Commentaries, p. 31.]

The end of this quote gives a good word. If you are KJV Hesitant or KJV Never, do not belittle those who are in the other camps!

No one will doubt that Spurgeon was Baptist to the bone and no one would doubt his commitment to the Scriptures. But he recognized from his voracious studies that all English translations will have places where correction will be needed—but it’s no reason to distrust other translations that aim to place Jesus and all other orthodox doctrines in high order.

In message 1604, “Heart Disease Curable,” Spurgeon says,

Concerning the fact of difference between the Revised and Authorised Versions, I would say that no Baptist should ever fear any honest attempt to produce the correct text, and an accurate interpretation of the Old and New Testaments. For many years Baptists have insisted upon it that we ought to have the Word of God translated in the best possible manner . . .. By the best and most honest scholarship that can be found we desire that the common version [KJV] may be purged of every blunder of transcribers, or addition of human ignorance, or human knowledge, so that the Word of God may come to us as it came from His own hand.

Remember, Spurgeon loved the KJV. Loved it. His camp is KJV-preferred. But he had a view in showing that it is a translation! Errors that are in any English translation can fall into, as D.A. Carson says, intentional and unintentional.

Consider this example from Carson:

Before the printing press the New Testament (and all other) documents were copied by hand. People are not capable of copying a lengthy piece of written material without introducing errors. This is easily proved. Sit down and copy out the Gospel of John (from whatever translation you like). After you have finished, read it through and correct it. Then give it to two or three friends and have each of them read your correction. No more evidence will be needed [Source, p 14].

Spurgeon was all for scholarship being used to find a better (read: more accurate) translation! Even the KJV was revised in 1887—for the KJV Bible we have is not the precise one found in 1611. The newer translations come out of late not because of a hatred for the Word and a desire to pervert the Word but for a desire to help make the Word clearer. Some succeed, some do not! Some try to make it more palatable for the modern reader, thus loosening the thrust of the original Greek and Hebrew. But by and large, these translations work to honor the originals to help those in the faith.

Lastly, this:

“Greek is the sacred tongue, and Greek is the Baptist’s tongue; we may be beaten in our own version [the KJV], sometimes; but in Greek, never” (Autobiography, vol. 2, p. 327).

Spurgeon spoke that the “Greek” (the language of the NT as well as the Greek OT known as the Septuagint) is the “sacred tongue.” Not English—for English didn’t come into its origins until 1000 A.D. or so. Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic were the languages God used for His original inspired texts.

Thus speaks Spurgeon on the matter! Heaven knows there are many other opinions, websites, books, and pamphlets out there on various and sundry angles of this issues.

May charity be given to all, regardless of our respective camps.